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Eye-Opening Videos


Via Treehugger, a ten minute interview by Revkin of McKibben. (I think they talk past each other a bit without noticing. Revkin injects a bit of Pielkeism in there and I don’t know if McKibben even notices.)

But McKibben has come to the same place in the last year or so that many of us have. Our future is down to difficult vs impossible. The easy solutions have been foreclosed. It’s officially too late to avoid a damaged world.

The basic issue of the planet right now is that it’s disintegrating. That’s even more basic than the fact that we have to keep developing and people need energy and all that. There’s no way anyone is going to develop anything, including energy or anything else, if their whole friggin country is washing away.

There’s no happy ending where we prevent climate change anymore.

Another video I highly recommend is a long one featuring Ben Santer, introduced by Stephen Schneider, last year, telling the climategate story in a radically unfamiliar way, which is to say his own experiences in trying to do the right thing under years of personal attack. This one was dug up somehow by GreenMan Peter Sinclair of Climate Crocks fame. Even without the questions and the introduction it’s about an hour, so set aside some time. But if you’re seriously interested in climate science, watch the main presentation “Why Such Resistance?” with your full attention. There are some great quotes in that talk! But ultimately it’s sad and shocking.

(There’s also an interesting but peculiar video at that GreenMan link with the odd couple of Santer and Chris Mooney, who I don’t really think make a cohesive piece together.)

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David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Dec 12, 2010 6:30 pm GMT

I’m not sure how people ever saw a “happy ending”.

So the “there’s no longer a happy ending” thing seems to be a necessary stage for people to get through if they want to see this problem clearly.  Here’s a chart showing an interpretation of data available in 1987, i.e. the Vostok Core:

I took one look at this in 1988 and thought we have to get back to 280 if there is to be a happy ending.  The bandwagon then was “sustainable development”.  Supposedly, in the face of clear evidence like this that the human impact had exceeded the capacity of the planet to absorb, civilization was going to expand its size by an order of magnitude anyway.  I.e. the developed world which then amounted to about 1 billion people living as we do here in North America was going to expand to 10 billion people living at that standard by 2050.  China and India are demonstrating they know how to achieve the rate of economic expansion that will make this expansion possible, so it is dawning on more people how big the problem is.  But it was seen clearly as an inevitability in high level debate in the late 1980s.  Another way to look at it was if 1 billion people, us, used 80% of the world’s resources in 1988 to live at their standard, as this expanded to 10 billion by 2050 living on that scale, 800% of the world’s resources would be required.  Throw in all the technology you want:  prospects looked daunting. 

The ozone hole in this analysis was the first confirmed evidence of planet scale damage due to the wastes of civilization.  Had civilization turned back then, things would be looking different now.  But how many people were prepared to do what would be necessary?  History shows people can work together to do incredible things, but they need to have the necessity brought home to them in a way they can’t deny. 

McKibben in the video link brought up analogies from WWII.  I think that period shows us how this will play out.  Too many now think you can pretend basic physical laws governing the behavior of the planetary system can be ignored or appeased in the way people pre WWII thought they could appease Hitler.  McKibben:  “thank god there were some Winston Churchill’s around”.   I wonder.  Churchill was a voice in the wilderness but they didn’t turn to him until circumstances brought it home to everyone that Churchill had been seeing the issue with more clarity than most others.  It was the circumstances rather than a movement built up by Churchill that caused adequate action in the end.  I’m not arguing that Churchill should not have done what he could to wake people up.  But here is British historian Dan Todman discussing this issue:

He’s talking about the period after Poland was invaded when the Chamberlain government was still in control of the levers of power in Britain:

Todman:  “So they misjudge how the war is going to be fought. But they’re not alone in doing that. I mean there’s a widespread misconception amongst the whole population.  And the limits on their freedom of action are not just conceptual.  Its not that Chamberlain and members of his Cabinet want to continue with business as usual because they are somehow bad people, or that because they believe that always, business must come before national survival.  Its really more that they are trapped in a situation, where they can’t gain compliance on the part of the population…. So really the Chamberlain government is trapped in a circumstance where it can’t generate the national will  that’s necessary to fight a more total war, even as it becomes more and more convinced as it gets into the spring of 1940 that that is what it has to do.  And really it is not until the circumstances change, until  the fall of France, and this great threat to Britain that emotionally mobilizes the population, that ANY government can start to do that.  And it has to be said that even when the Churchill government comes in in 1940 it takes a far more hesitant approach to the mobilization of domestic efforts than is often assumed.  May to June 1940 is not as great and decisive a shift as we sometimes think in terms of  things like rationing, and the conscription of women, those are events that take place much later in the war.   And they’re very concerned, the Churchill coalition, to stay behind the demand curve, really, they’re operating inside the same set of limits as their predecessors, but they’re doing so in a drastically changed international circumstance.”

Paul Kelly's picture
Paul Kelly on Dec 13, 2010 10:45 pm GMT

David,

“A necessary stage for people to get through” defines McKibben’s despair as the acceptance stage of grief. What loss is he accepting?

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Dec 14, 2010 5:26 pm GMT

I don’t know McKibben.  The “necessary stage for people to get through” I’m talking about doesn’t necessarily have much to do with him personally but to a certain extent maybe it does.  He’s been staring at this for a long time.  If you read The End of Nature which he wrote in the late 1980s then read Eaarth, his latest effort, you see a thinker working out what climate change means.  Its a hard thing to face. His thought hasn’t suddenly changed as the decades flew by.  He saw a “damaged world” decades ago, that’s what the “end” of nature he saw then was.  If he’s saying now that “there’s no happy ending where we prevent climate change anymore” to himself, he’s saying something he could have said, and to a great extent did say, twenty years ago.  All we can do at this point is all we could ever do:  we can try to limit the damage.  We can try to conserve the planetary system and we need to do this no matter how much damage the system is already committed to.  The forces in motion as civilization “runs out of planet” can’t be turned around on a dime.  We’ve been headed here since the ancient Greeks wondered as their topsoil disappeared into the sea after they cut their forests down.  People who despair because its too late, however they understand that, should despair because it is too late.  Power to act, beyond despair, can be greater and more meaningful, if any of this makes sense.  Life continues.  People will want to work together to see what can be made of what’s left.  This is the only planet anyone knows about where life exists.

Paul Kelly's picture
Paul Kelly on Dec 14, 2010 8:59 pm GMT

McKibben’s outlook seems a slow descent into doomsday scenario. Power to act comes from an optimistic, hopeful outlook.

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